Japan PM approves pro-China activists' deportation
Pro-China activists who sailed to a disputed island are to be deported after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda approved the move.
TOKYO - Pro-China activists who sailed to a disputed island are to be deported after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda approved the move, a government spokesman said on Friday.
Local media reported the expulsions could happen as soon as Friday afternoon as Japan moves swiftly to end a potentially destabilising row with China.
"The prime minister has received detailed reports on the illegal landing," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura. "He yesterday decided to approve of the related agencies' final conclusion to deport" the 14 activists.
Fujimura denied the decision had been taken on grounds of political expediency.
"This is not something the government has decided on emotionally. We firmly and strictly responded in accordance with our domestic law," he told a news conference.
Noda, who had been under pressure to act on an issue that is keenly felt in Beijing, and who has also been dealing with a territorial spat with South Korea, called a special cabinet meeting on Friday.
"It is really regrettable that they entered Japan's territorial waters and illegally landed on Uotsurijima, despite our repeated warnings," he told his ministers.
All of those arrested after sailing to the island in the East China Sea have been transferred to immigration officials' custody, police said.
The group set off from Hong Kong on Sunday. Five of them were arrested on one of the islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese on Wednesday, the 67th anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender.
Taiwan's foreign ministry said late Thursday that vice minister Tung Kuo-yu met with Japan's de facto ambassador to stress Taipei's claim to the disputed islands.
He said Japan's arrest of the activists "was unhelpful in maintaining regional peace and stability".
A commentary carried Thursday by China's state-run Xinhua news agency criticised Japan for the arrests, saying they were "a relic of militarism and a degeneration of morality and conscience".
It added the islands had been a part of Chinese territory since the Ming dynasty -- which began in 1368 -- and called upon Japan to release the activists "immediately and unconditionally".
Tokyo's decision to deport the group, which had been widely expected, stands in sharp contrast to the diplomatic calamity of 2010 when it held a Chinese trawlerman for two weeks after he rammed coastguard vessels.
Japan was widely criticised as having caved in to Chinese pressure and being forced into releasing the man after Beijing halted high level contacts and stymied trade.
In 2004, when a group of Chinese activists landed on one of the disputed islands, the then prime minister Junichiro Koizumi ordered their deportation after two days.
The renewed dispute over the islands comes as Japan's relations with South Korea also become increasingly frayed after President Lee Myung-Bak last week visited islets controlled by Seoul but claimed by Tokyo.